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I have recently published my first research paper and have already received a request to review a manuscript. The journal's impact factor is low, but it is open access, and the paper's topic is relevant to my field of study. What factors should I keep in mind when deciding whether to accept or decline the request to review? What level of expertise is typically expected from a good-quality review?

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Writing peer reviews is a vital part of academic life and you should eventually partake in such service to the community. In order to write a good review, you need

  1. time to actually read the manuscript and write the review;
  2. sufficient scientific expertise in the relevant field;
  3. some idea of what constitutes a good review;
  4. confidence in your own judgement and in your critique of (potentially much more senior) authors.

Reviewing is always much easier and pleasant if the manuscript is good. When there are problems with the manuscript, that's where it becomes tricky (unfortunately, many submitted manuscripts fall in the second category).

You should definitely discuss this with your supervisor.

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Grad students can certainly review papers. Most likely there will be something like 3 reviews, and the others will be faculty or other more experienced reviewers. If you think you know the area, go for it! Need to pay forward the efforts of those reviewing your papers, after all.

  • It obviously depends on the field, but in no scientific field that I am familiar with can a low-impact journal reliably get three referees per paper. – Buzz Jun 17 '17 at 21:25
  • True, @Buzz, I don't tend to involve myself with low-impact journals so I didn't think of that. But then, for those, it is probably less critical to have at least 2 highly qualified reviews. – Fred Douglis Jun 17 '17 at 21:27

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